Last week saw Real Scientists reach the 6000 follower mark, much to the delight of [Admin]. Photos of cartwheels are still forthcoming. Big thanks to @DrMegsW/Dr Megan Wilson for her week curating the fascinating field of developmental biology. This week we welcome molecular virologist Dr David Hawkes (@mrhawkes) from the Florey Institute, Melbourne, Australia. Here’s Dr Hawkes in his own words:
My name is Dave and I’m a scientist. It’s this sort of sentence that I have tried to avoid throughout my career. Don’t get me wrong I am very proud of the work I do and the people I get to work with but it is more the stereotypes that come to peoples minds when they think of scientists.
I am currently working as a neuroscientist/virologist for the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health in Melbourne. My work focuses around a recently discovered neuropeptide called relaxin-3. This neuropeptide was discovered around 10 years ago and our lab has shown that it appears to play a role in eating, sleeping, memory, learning, addiction and responses to emotional stress. While I am fascinated by all of this the part of our work the thing that really puts fire in my belly is the techniques we can use to investigate relaxin-3.
Viral vectors are a special type of virus that have been modified so that they can’t cause disease. These viral vectors can be used to help investigate the role of specific cells in the brain in a huge number of diseases, virual vectors from our lab have been used to investigate addicition, eating and sleeping disorders, stress, epilepsy, stroke and even multiple sclerosis. I get to spend a good part of my time dreaming up new and really cool viral vectors and then get to create and use them to help us understand the brain.
As my wife often complains, I probably spent almost as much time involved in science outside of my work as I do in. I spent three months in Bristol in the UK in 2009 and became aware of a whole host of topics, through Ben Goldacre’s book “Bad Science”, I hadn’t heard of – homeopathy, anti-vaccination, alternative medicines, and many others. Although I had spent five years working on HIV I wasn’t really familiar with HIV denialists and other anti-scientists. I know that as scientists we are really focused on our own area but I think we really need to look at our research from the point of view of the general public. Since 2009 I have become heavily involved in trying to combat anti-vaccine misinformation and am currently an administrator of the Stop the AVN facebook site which has a weekly audience in the tens of thousands. I also recently published a paper exmining the risks and benefits of the HPV vaccine –http://www.infectagentscancer.com/content/8/1/22 which I co-wrote with two people I met through Facebook.
I have also been involved in a wide variety of science related organisation which have been fantastic for networking and looking at science from a more political point of view. This Monday we are launching a corwd funding project called Name the Virus (@Namethvirus on twitter or https://www.facebook.com/namevirus on facebook or http://www.pozible.com/project/34853) which aims to raise $10,000 to enable us to create 4 new viral vectors. The great part of this project is that anyone who donates $20 or more cn contribute a name for one of these new viral vectors. Any (socially acceptible) name which gets over $2500 will be used, so maybe @realscientists followers can help create the “RealScience” viral vector?
I have come to the conclusion that as researchers we are not fully utilising social media to form collaborations, access new research, or contribute to community discussions on science. I am hoping that my time as curator of @realscientists will allow me to both give you an idea of what I do as a scientist, in and out of the lab, but also hopefully make you aware of the world of science outside of academia – blogs, podcasts, twitter, google hangouts, facebook and others I haven’t even heard of yet.
Thanks Dave for your kind words about Dave. Now, here’s Dave!